The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram has a centuries-long history, which is entwined with myth and legends. Among the few shrines in India with Lord Padmanabha (Vishnu) in a reclining pose on the serpent Anantha, the temple is an architectural marvel situated in an area of approximately eight acres in the heart of the Kerala capital.
However, there are no clear historical records on the exact dates when the temple was built or by whom. The only source of information regarding the origins of the shrine is the 'Mathilakam' records, a collection of around 30 lakh palm leaf manuscripts. The earliest references in these manuscripts that can be confirmed historically are from the year 1304.
According to these records, the temple was under the control of the Ay dynasty that ruled southern Kerala during the Sangham Age.
The major milestones in the temple's history since then are as follows:
• During Sangham Age, which was in first century AD, the temple was governed by Ay rulers.
• In the tenth century AD, the Ay dynasty collapsed and the Venad kings took over the temple.
• In AD 1050 the then Venad ruler renovated the temple.
• In 1335, king Marthanda Varma took over the control of the temple.
• After extensive renovation, a reinstallation ceremony was performed in 1461.
• A civil war erupted in Venad during 1673-77 and the temple was closed. No rituals were carried out during this period.
• The Padmanabhaswamy Temple witnessed a major fire in 1686 and most parts of the building were gutted. The fire was brought under control before it reached the idol, but the sanctum sanctorum was damaged as the roof collapsed.
• Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, founder of Travancore kingdom, started rebuilding the temple in the present form in 1729 soon after he ascended the throne. Thycaud Kesavan Vishnu Trathan Namboodiri was in charge of the renovation works.
• An amazing feature of the temple is the 'Ottakkal Mandapam,' a platform built out of single granite stone. Its construction began in 1731.
• All the major renovation works were completed by 1733. They included expanding and deepening the Padmatheertham pond in front of the temple and installation of the present idol in place of the earlier one made of wood.
• The new 18-feet-long idol in the shape of Padmanabha reclining on Anantha was created with 12,008 salagrama stones brought from Nepal and kadu sarkara, a unique mixture of various materials.
• Yet another landmark ceremony witnessed in the temple was the 'Thrippadidanam' in 1750. King Marthanda Varma surrendered all his wealth and powers to the deity, Sree Padmanabha, and took on the role of a servant of the god protecting the land and treasure. All the precious items belonging to the kingdom were then stored in vaults of the temple.
• There was another fire in the temple in 1934. However, the shrine was only partly damaged and repairs were soon carried out.
• By the historic Temple Entry Proclamation of November 12, 1936, Sri Chithira Thirunal, the then maharaja, allowed all Hindus to enter the temples, including Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, in Travancore.
• Mahatma Gandhi visited the temple along with Dalits on January 13, 1937 during the festival organized as part of the Temple Entry Proclamation.